The Joyful Quitter

Hello, I’m Ken, and I’m a quitter.

This isn’t the opening to a 12-step, I’m-so-ashamed program. The act of quitting bandages the abrasions earned by scraping your metaphorical knees as you learn what you shouldn’t do. Bandages shouldn’t be applied unnecessarily; so too don’t apply quitting without need. At best it looks stupid; at worst, it hampers your movement, just as an elaborate bandage hobbles you and can lead to permanent restriction.

We’re conditioned to abhor quitting. “Don’t be a quitter!” and “Winners never quit and quitters never win!” But what if you’re not in the right contest? Quitters may never win, but the untalented never win either, and there is no shame in realizing you’re in the wrong game: a five-foot body isn’t going to cut it in the NBA.

I’ve quit many a race. I regret few. I much more regret the months and months of anguishing about whether I should quit as I languished in a situation going nowhere. After the fact, I realized that I perversely reversed the thinking process, making the decision (without consciously acknowledging it) then searching for a rationalization to get to it.

Quitting can force itself on you. What blessed relief when something like an emergency appendectomy absolves you of all personal responsibility! Just lie there and let others administer to you! Or maybe a Tyrant-Disguised-As-Your-New-Boss suddenly makes the exit look exceedingly attractive. Or the ultimate quit occurs–your significant other stabs your heart by quitting the relationship. Take a moment to cry, then notice all the windows that opened when the door was slammed shut.

I can’t remember all the times I’ve quit, but I do still remember clearly one of the first when the 13-year-old version of me spent a couple weeks on the track team in junior high, a very round peg in a very square hole. I talked myself into a poor 880-yard run performance by saying things like, “don’t worry if you’re losing; someone has to finish last.” No surprise then when the last-place runner passed me and gasped, “why are we doing this?” before he made me the last-place runner! That was a Friday. I quit Monday. Sorry, Coach Skilstead, but I’m sure 57 years later that I made the right decision. Before I got out of high school I had quit vocal music, despite the fact I was good at it and it comprised one-third of all my classes as a sophomore. As I entered my senior year, I quit taking math classes despite being one of the best students in every class I took to that point. I mentally quit thinking I would be a journalist when I returned to creative writing as a senior. (But then I “quit” on that idea when I realized I needed the discipline of a deadline to get myself to the typewriter. [Typewriter! Look it up younglings!]

A good runner, way out front. Not me. This is my brother. Fall 1973. Spokane, WA.

Once upon a time I quit a college class called Introduction to Political Science. I sat down for the mid-term examination and found I couldn’t answer any of the questions–a Friday again, naturally. I caught up with the professor the following week and told him I wanted to withdraw from the class. He whipped out his gradebook, registered surprise, and said, “But you’ve got a B at this point and that’s one of the highest marks in the class!” I referenced the midterm and insisted.

I’ve quit church choirs. I’ve quit jobs, sometimes even without having another job to go to. I tried to quit a job for over a year in 2004 and 2005, but the company laid me off before I could line up something else. I indulged in The Big Quit, a.k.a. Retirement at the end of 2019, answering firmly the question, “What would you do if you won/inherited a million dollars?” I had always equivocated when the question seemed theoretical. I told my co-workers I would keep working “unless I felt I was depriving someone who needed a job”. Yeah, it wasn’t a million dollars, but that didn’t matter. I was outta thereā€¦but that’s another story for another day.

Recently a person whose work I admire here on WordPress said something about quitting, subtly invoking the tropes our society attempts to get all of us to believe in. Apologetic notes crept in. I hurt for this person, yes, but I enjoyed seeing the acceptance of quitting and the benefits it could bring.

Lately my brother ran into a mental wall which made him abandon his plan to visit us today (April 22). These enforced ‘quits’ don’t always sit well with a person, but I hope he can embrace the possibilities quitting can bring. I hope he can become a Good Quitter.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to absolve myself when I set aside books which fail to engage me. I’ll feel little remorse for giving up on all the gardening I thought I would do when retired. I’ll try to let myself off the hook for all the home repairs which haven’t been completed. I’ll give myself the freedom to pursue what I want when I want to. It’s been about seven decades–I’m still learning how to do this quitting thing. I’ll let you know how it works out.